You’ve been offered a job in the UK, which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Before you pack your bags and arrange shipping for your household—even before you buy a plane ticket—you need to secure one vital piece of paper. The UK work visa or UK work permit allows you to legally enter the UK and earn a living there. You’ll be allowed to work in the UK for a certain period of time, then you can apply for permanent residency if your employer still needs your work skills.

UK Work Visa Types 

Before contacting your country’s embassy or the UK embassy, you need to know specifically which work visa you’ll need. While you’ll be holding a UK work visa, if you applied for the wrong type, you won’t be able to begin working in your new job. The different work visas are referred to as “tier” visas, with a number after “tier.” Here are the categories:

  • Domestic Workers in a Private Household
  • Exempt Vignette
  • Representative of an Overseas Business
  • Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
  • Tier 1 (General)
  • Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 1 (Investor)
  • Tier 2 (General)
  • Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer)
  • Tier 2 (Minister of Religion)
  • Tier 2 (Sportsperson)
  • Tier 2 (Priority Service)
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker, Charity Worker)
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker, Creative and Sporting)
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker, International Agreement)
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker, Religious Worker)
  • Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme)
  • Turkish Businessperson
  • Turkish Worker
  • UK Ancestry Visa

Out of all of these work visa categories, you need to know which one will apply to you. Looking at the exempt vignette for instance, if you don’t need a visa to work in the UK due to your exemption from immigration control, this documentation will enable you, not only to work, but to enter the country more easily, according to Gov.UK.

Applying for Various UK Work Visas 

Your employer should begin the application process early for your UK work visa. As you learn how to get a work visa in the UK, educating yourself on the actual process will smooth it out for you so you don’t encounter any unneeded snags.

Before you apply for your own work visa, you may need to apply for entry clearance before you travel to this country, states the Work Permit website. If your spouse and children will be traveling to the UK with you, they will also have to apply for clearance to enter the UK. Putting the application times together, you can expect to wait an average of four to six weeks to obtain your entry clearances and your work visas. In addition, you can enter the UK while your application is being processed—you just can’t begin working. If you are coming from countries such as Libya, North Korea, Iraq, Russia or China, you will be subject to additional security clearance checks. This means your application will take more time.

The New Tier 2 Work Permit 

If you are applying for one of the Tier 2 work visa, this replaces what was known as the UK Work Permit system, according to the UK Visa Bureau.  One requirement of the Tier 2 work permit: The position cannot be filled by a citizen of Great Britain. Also, you must have a confirmed sponsorship from a licensed employer in the UK. Your employer also needs to show solid proof that they advertised the position throughout the entire country and had not been able to fill it with a person already living within the European Economic Area.

You’ll have to show that you have the qualifications and skills needed for the vacancy in the UK. You’ll fit within one of four categories for a Tier 2 work visa:

  • Intra-Company transfer
  • Skilled worker
  • Minister of religion
  • Sports person

Once you arrive in the UK, you’ll need to abide by certain UK visa requirements. If not, you run the risk of losing your UK work visa and facing other consequences. You’ll be able to live and work within the UK for up to three years, for the same employer who hired you. If necessary, your employer can file for an extension of this time period, allowing you to stay and work in the country for up to five years. If your particular job skills will be needed beyond this time, you or your employer can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, which is also known as permanent residency.

Requirements of Tier 1 and Tier 2 Work Visas 

If you have obtained “leave to remain,” you’ll be able to apply to switch your visa from its current status to a Tier 1 (General) visa. To qualify, you must be a self-employed lawyer, writer, artist, composer or a member of the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, according to the Learn4Good website. If you plan to switch to a Tier 1 visa, give yourself sufficient time to obtain this category. You must be able to meet certain English-speaking requirements and, once you have the visa, you may be able to request settlement after living in the UK for five years.

You’ll be able to maintain self-employment, bring your family with you and work in most jobs in the UK without needing a sponsor. You will not be able to work as a doctor in training, get public funds (welfare) or work as a sports coach.

If you are from a country outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland or if you’ve been offered a skill job, you are eligible to apply for a Tier 2 visa. Have a certificate of sponsorship from a potential employer before coming to the UK to work. The work you do should be related to the work of your sponsoring organization.

You can take a second job in the same profession and level for up to 20 hours/week; work for your sponsor; work in a job with a shortage of workers in the UK (for up to 20 hours/week); study, provided it doesn’t interfere with your work; do volunteer work; bring family with you, and; travel abroad as long as you return to the UK.

You can’t get public funds; own more than 10 percent of your sponsor’s shares; begin working before getting your visa; apply for a second job before beginning to work for your sponsor.

The Application Process 

Your employer will apply for your work permit rather than you. You’ll be asked to provide specific information before they begin the application process. You and your employer should make sure your employment qualifies for a UK work permit, according to First Permit Ltd.

Youth Mobility Scheme 

This is a UK working holiday visa, also called the “UK Youth Mobility Visa.” Those between the ages of 18 and 30 can live and work in the UK for up to two years.

You can’t be self-employed or provide services to others as a doctor in training or sportsperson. You must work for an employer.